PLANNING CITY CULTURE

An opinion piece in today's Dominon Post entitled 'Lack of Planning hurting Wellington' is an interesting read, providing some thoughtful, grounded consideration of where Wellington City is going. The author's focus on public events, activities and use of space seems to highlight the lack of discussion of people we usually hear in planning conversations.

However, the piece got me thinking, and I had a few queries. I noted down the following, intending to post in reponse to the piece. However, my thoughts got out of hand, and before long I had well exceeded the maximum character limit. So, I thought I'd post it here instead.

'I am somewhat concerned that your suggestions for change focus on new buildings primarily located on the waterfront. This response echoes two urban issues Wellington encountered in the 1970s and the 1990s. In the 70s, a large amount of the building stock was demolished to pave the way for the new with the dream that this would fix the urban issues of the time. The learnings from that were that new was not neccessarily better, and that in establishing the new, much of what was held dear as quintessentially Wellington was lost. In developing culture, we have to take care not to abolish culture.


Members of the public seem to understand that new doesn't solve everything: in the 1990s, there was much public outcry about council plans for doing exactly what you suggest: building large facilities (some public, some private) on the Waterfront. The result of years of public dissent was Waitangi Park - a lively, variable terrain which acts as a connective tissue between the cultural institution of Te Papa (which, sadly, turns its back to the Waterfront) and the leisure precinct of Oriental Bay.

If you look at Wellington more broadly, you'll notice that it's not so much places, but the linkages between them which we struggle with. While our compactness lends us the title of a 'pedestrian friendly city', wide vehicular streets, large block sizes, and few direct accessways from the city to the waterfront limit pedestrian exploration and engagement. (In this sense, to praise Jervois quay as a necessary 'strong boundary' seems ill-considered.) If I could walk the short distance from Courtney Place up Taranki St to the Film Archive without getting drenched, having my skirt blow above my knees, my ears blown out by four lanes of traffic and nothing to look at but a blank facade than perhaps I might be more inclined to spend more time - and money - there. Why confine your conceptions of 'performance' and 'culture' within four-walls, or outdoor amphitheatres? The city as a whole deserves to be considered as a site of our cultural endevours.

The suggestion is that 'our planning needs to bring them together'. Close, but not quite. Rather, I suggest, our planning needs to promote active, connected, and accessible cultural institutions which are not neccessarily 'together' geogaphically, but which, through consideration of wider urban planning issues such as Jervois Quay and Taranki St, are accessible as a group, and indicate their individuals roles within the broader cultural climate you wish to promote.The distribution of cultural institutions throughout Wellington allows a broader range of individuals to come into contact with them everyday; rather than relegating them to the role of weekend or tourist fare that is the waterfront.

The answers are not as simple as : but then, our creativity should make Wellington well placed to develop innovative, long-term propositions. Wellington 2040 - and the creative public marketing of this vision - was surely a good start. '
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